From Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders ...


"The Brave Hielan' Laddies"

 

Great Britain stood alone ...

A&SH in P37 Battle DressA&SH in P37 Battle DressThe British Nation stood alone against the might of the victorious Wehrmacht after the collape of France in 1940. Isolated from the continent and with it's lifeline - the Atlantic trade routes - being decimated by the German Kriegsmarine's U-boats to such extent that it made even Churchill admit that there was nothing he feared more than those marauding German wolfpacks.

Having rescued the bulk of it's Expeditionary Force via Dunkerque, courtesy of Operation Dynamo, but with the loss of all the equipment and heavy weapons, the British Army started rebuildning it's forces again. Conscription was installed and the men of the Island Nation was called into arms. New recruits had to be trained and equipped in a haste to fend off an impending invasion of the British Isles. 

Thanks to the efforts of the young men of the Royal Air Force the danger of invasion was averted as a result of The Battle of Britain.

Despite the continuous defeats in the early stages of the war Churchill managed to galvanise the nation and somehow personied the stubborn "British Bulldog"-stance of never giving in. His competent guidance of Britain, his sheer energy provided the platform for eventual Victory over Germany.

 

Fighting on three continents

The British Army was ill-prepared for war at the outbreak of WWII. The fairly small standing army was based on volunteers and mostly trained for protecting the colonies while much faith was placed on the mighty Royal Navy to protect the British Isles.

While Germany was busy tearing up the Versailles Treaty from the Great War by re-introducing conscription, re-arming it's armed forces, the "Allied Forces" of France and Britain trusted on outdated defensive tactics and also weaponry. The French faith rested on the Maginot Line, something that was to prove fatal in the Battle of France as the Germans, like in the Great War, came through Belgium once again - no lessons having been learned from the past.

From December 1941 onwards Britain was fighting on three continents: Europe, Africa and Asia. The "end of the beginning" was marked by the decisive victory at the second Battle of El Alamein late in 1942 - only the second major victory for the British Armed Forces during the war, so far.

 

Aye, the brave Scots

Hielan Laddies somewhere in EuropeHielan Laddies somewhere in EuropeI have chosen for my British theme the reliable and steady Scots, in this case the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (A&SH), borne out of my admiration for their fighting qualities for their service for the British Empire throughout centuries of conflict and the many colonial wars. Since the Union of 1707 with England, Scottish regiments have served with distinction in the British Army, and continue to do so today, barring the referendum for Scottish Indepence will go through.

The nine battalions of the A&SH served on all theatres of war that the British Army was engaged in. Despite the disastrous result to the short "Malayan Campaign" there was one unit - the A&SH. Under the capable command of Lt.Col. Ian Stewart - they stood out and stood up against the advancing Japanese, in the process inflicting them severe losses, earning them the nickname "jungle beasts" along the way.

Equally in North Africa, the 8th Battalion won fame in Tunisia during the Battle of Longstop Hill, in 1943.

In 1944 the A&SH landed as part of the 51 Highland Div. at Normandy. The regiment was involved in the various campaigns through the North-Western push towards Germany, eventually ending up in Bremerhaven at the very end of the war.

 

Uniform and Equipment

Bayonet practice for A&SH recruitsBayonet practice for A&SH recruitsThe British Army adopted a new uniform pattern with the Battle Dress (P37). There was also the "austerity" P40 used during the time when material was being scarce. The Khaki colour being maintained from the past. The side cap was carried along with the little changed Brodie-helmet. The Scottish units preferred their traditional Tam o' Shanters, albeit in khaki.

The traditional Scottish kilt was frequently worn by Scottish units, but often with a plain Khaki cover to the front. Eventually the standard Battle Dress became norm also with Scottish units.

A new webbing system was also established the same year, with the large ammunition pouches being the main difference.

The venerable SMLE .303 rifle was still the mainstay of the soldiers, often carried with the unwieldy 1907 Sword Bayonet (later being substituted by the No.4 Spike Bayonet). The Thompson submachine gun was used from the beginning of the conflict, also with the addition of the low-cost manufactured Sten-gun.

Another infantry support gun was the Bren Gun, that made service as light machine gun.

 

 




Badge of FNFL No4 Commando - 1944Badge of FNFL No4 Commando - 1944... to the 1ier Battallion Fusiliers Marins Commando

 

"de Gaulle's spearhead at the Normandy Landings"

 

Collapse of France

de Gaulle inspecting his fledgling Free French Naval Forcesde Gaulle inspecting his fledgling Free French Naval ForcesThe armed forces of France suffered the utter humiliation of a crushing defeat during the Battle of France in june 1940, as in merely 6 weeks the Wehrmacht had defeated the French and their British Allies.

With several French Defence budgets spent on the "white elephant" - the static defences of the Maginot-Line - the Panzers of Guderian simply rolled through the Ardennes and cut the French armies in half. Complacency, poor tactics combined with poor leadership, inter service-bickerings, poor coordination with their British Allies led, in the end, to an easy German victory in this campaign.

As the Allies were being driven towards the atlantic coast they were finally evaquated from Dunkerque, during Operation Dynamo, where almost 75,000 French troops also were ferried over to Britain, albeit the majority of them opted to be returned to France to continue the fight ... and end up as PoW's in the process after the final collapse of France.

Northern France and all of the Atlantic coastline was occupied, in the process gaining the Kriegsmarine excellent U-boat bases all along the Western Coast of France, whereas the southern parts remained a "free zone" of Vichy-France under the leadership of Marshal Philippe Petain, the hero from the Great War.

 

Setting up the FFF

Of those few French troops that remained on the British Isles, the nucleus of the Free French Forces was formed under General de Gaulle who tried to rally his countrymen for the continued fight against Germany. Many french didn't trust neither de Gaulle nor the British and opted to be repatriated, divided in their allegiances between choosing to return to fight for the French Army or join de Gaulle's Free Forces.

The main successes in recruiting troops to the FFF was through the French Navy, despite the attack on Mers el Kebir in 1940, and among the French Colonial Forces.

Initially the main fighting was done in Northern Africa where the French turned over and joined the Allies after Operation Torch in 1942. They also took part in the Italian Campaigns.

 

Liberating the Homeland

Capitaine de Corvette - Philippe KiefferCapitaine de Corvette - Philippe KiefferFrance Libre - patch worn by the Free French troopsFrance Libre - patch worn by the Free French troopsBy June 1944 the FFF numbered some 400,000 troops. On D-Day the small French contingent assigned to the first wave was that of Capitaine de Corvette, Philippe Kieffer - his 176 Fusiliers Marins (Naval Infantry) Commandos had the task of securing the town of Ouistreham on the very easternmost flank of the Normandy landings. Something they did succesfully.

Having been given permission in 1941, the unit had been raised by Kieffer and trained in similar, demanding, ways as the British Commandos, in Achnacarry - Scotland.

Later on more Free French Forces came through the Normandy beaches to spearhead the drive to liberate France. A similar landing was made on the Mediterranean Coast, Operation Dragoon, that was to push through to the North and meet up with the forces that landed in Normandy.

By the end of August, Paris had been liberated by the forces lead by General LeClerc in front of jubilant Parisians. The continued push towards the heartland of Germany began in earnest.

The Free French Forces grew in strength and by September they had reached 550,000 men - which was to rise to 1.300,000 men at the end of the war.

The 1st French Army fought all the way into German territory, being among the first allied troops to reach the Rhine. At the end of the war France were awarded a "slice" of Berlin as occupation zone.

 

Uniform and equipment

A French FNFL Sapper in mainly British gear ... except the famous "Bachi" naval cap.A French FNFL Sapper in mainly British gear ... except the famous "Bachi" naval cap.

The French units that were established under de Gaulle wore what they bore with them after the Dunkerque evacuation but as their uniform supply was cut, British uniforms and weapons were being invariably adopted like the main Battle Dress (P37 and/or P40) but always with some distinct French touches, like initially the m/26 Adrian Helmet. The French Marines in the FNFL also wore their traditional "Bachi" naval bonnet and during the Normandy-landings they had also adopted their famous Green Beret, worn even today by the same unit. British items we

Arms and webbings were similar, if not identical, with that of their British counterparts in the Commando and Marine units.

Another signatory item with the special forces was the notorious Fairbairn-Sykes dagger/knife. Also note that for stealth purposes, Commando units wore unstudded rubber soles under their "ammo-boots".

By 1944. the Free French units started also being supplied with U.S. uniform and equipment, notably the French troops landing at Toulon wore the main U.S. m/43 Uniform, M1 Helmet and also U.S. webbing, arms and general equipment.